“The Greatest Generation-Greatest Day”
I walked where they walked.
I was so stunned by what I saw, I couldn’t speak.
I know the history, and cannot imagine what it was like.
My whole family has been in the military. Father fought with the Seabees in the Pacific. 7-uncles fought in Europe and the Pacific. 3-died in combat.
They’re all gone now, but I have never forgotten where they were, what they did, how they contributed and the price they paid with their lives.
This morning, America, England, France and Canada will remember this 75th anniversary of the landings at Omaha-Utah-Gold-Sword beaches…all things Normandy.
They will remember Point duHoc, and the push that began against all odds to re-take Western Europe.
I walked those beaches last August. I sat and talked to a tour guide history professor about that morning, the plan, the disaster, the mistakes, the lives lost.
My uncle jumped with the 101st behind the German lines the night before the invasion began. He was wounded twice, survived, and saw his unit decimated. How he survived the jump into the St. Lo countryside, defies explanation.
A city that was 95% destroyed by bombardment, became the center of bitter fighting, with terrible deaths, second only to what happened on those beaches, 75-years ago this morning.
Eisenhower’s plan with the combined military forces, had to fight the weather, the German artillery, and the US mistakes.
The Air Force’s attempt to bomb the bluffs and knock out the 88-gun emplacements failed, when bombardiers, battling cloud cover, delayed their drops by 5-seconds. Instead of hitting the bluffs, the bombs landed a half mile inland.
The Navy’s attempt to shell the beaches failed to clear the barricades and land mines, and never created the bunkers the soldiers thought they’d be able to jump into once they landed. Instead they walked into a hail storm of death.
The withering fire, a vicious fusillade and cross-fire, slaughtered the first groups that came off the boats at 6:30am that day. The shelling from the bluffs continued unabated, on the beaches, and onto the landing craft. The death count in the first hour was staggering.
Dead soldiers, loss of equipment, loss of quality leadership. The plan was amiss. An hour into the carnage, Army Rangers tried to scale Point duHoc, where 5-of the heavy duty 88’s were in place. They took 90% casualties, but kept climbing the 150′ cliffs. it took them 35-minutes, they got to the top, destroyed the guns, opening the door for the US to finally get men onto the beaches, up the trails, and onto the bluffs.
The most stunning of the experience I had, was to not just walk the 450-yards from the low tide to the bluffs, and imagine what it was like, but then to go to the Normandy cemetery, located right above the beach. I could not talk when I walked onto the grounds, surrounded by 9,350 white crosses.
Think about the carnage, the death, the trauma, the blood, the chaos on the beach that first hour. I stood in that cemetery, fully engulfed in silence and respect. White crosses now reside as the resisting place for soldiers. There’s a wall with 1500 other names of those who landed, who were never recovered. 18,000 paratroopers jumped in. Then 150,000 landed in the 3-days that followed.
The cemetery is silent. Each white cross has a soldier’s name, his home state, and the day he died. The reverence on those walkways is stunning. No one talks. There are no laughs. People take pictures. People weep, like I did. Most are so stunned they are speechless.
A half mile down the road, there is a German burial ground, that contained 8,000-soldiers. There is no designation of whom they are, no identities, just a black stone on each grave, but no inscriptions.
Think of the dichotomy, White crosses-heroes, in the American cemetery, black stones-the villains, in the Germany cemetery. Good-vs-bad.
The fighting off the beaches would go on for weeks. The push inland was bloody. The destruction of Caen, Bastogne, Set Mare-Elise and so many other villages was part of the price paid The tally of those lost was staggering.
You walk the grounds whee so many gave so much, you have to be impacted by what you see.
I thought of my Uncle Vincent, a 22-year old, jumping out of a C-47, in the middle of the night, not knowing where he was landing, and what would happen. His unit decimated by anti-aircraft guns, by flak, by crashes, by land fighting.
Can you imagine the corpses? The red tide of blood washing over bodies? The destroyed equipment everywhere? A battle so momentous the emotional damage done to those who survived as bad as to those who died. Extraordinary, the courage of those men, and the suffering they would go thru. It was called the ‘Great Crusade’ by Ike, but it was the enormity of human tragedy. The totality of the brutality of what happened that murderous first day cannot be told by the statistics alone.
You’ve seen Saving Private Ryan. I had a D-Day survivor tell me the only thing missing from the movie was the smell of diesel fuel from the landing craft. You’ve seen Band of Brothers, the most honest story of those who jumped into the fight. It was true.
So today the world remembers, and should honor those who made the sacrifice. They jumped out of their planes, they jumped off the landing craft. They died in the water, died in the boats, died on the beach, died in fire fights inland.
In 1944, the St Louis Cardinals beat the St Louis Browns in the World Series. The Green Bay Packers, led by Don Hutson, beat the NY Giants in the NFL championship game. The National Basketball League champion was the Ft. Wayne Zollners. The Montreal Canadiens, led by Rocket Richard and Toe Blake took the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs from the Blackhawks. Hardly anyone remembers any of that. Seems trivial to what happened that summer day across the English Channel.
They did it, because they felt it was their duty, regardless of the outcome.
The world should stop and remember what happened 75-years ago this morning.
I will never forget, having had family members live, fight and die over there. I wish every American could go there and understand this morning, that morning back then.
Those men on this day, were indeed our ‘Greatest Generation’ and D-Day was their greatest day.
They died for the ideal of democracy.
God blesses them for what they did. We should never forget them either.
Freedom is not free. June 6, 1944–Normandy should be part of our lives forever.